Photography courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada

Meet the Ballerina Who’s Bringing the World’s Best Dancers to Toronto

"What we're doing with the Canada All Star Gala is bringing work that you can only see in Paris, or in Germany, or in London."

On October 28, seventeen of the world’s best ballet dancers will take to the stage at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. They will come from nine international elite ballet theatres to join the National Ballet of Canada’s most coveted ballerinas, with the goal of showcasing Canadian talent and building a Canadian star system in the world of ballet.

Svetlana Lunkina is the artistic director of this ambitious project: the non-profit Canada All Star Ballet Gala. Svetlana, who was trained at Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi Ballet and is now a Principal Dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, has curated and independently produced this landmark cultural event as a tribute to dance in Canada. The special evening will highlight fifteen outstanding modern, neoclassical, and contemporary ballet masterpieces — thirteen of which have never been performed in Canada, and including the world premiere of one original work.

We caught up with Svetlana to talk about what it takes to become a world-class ballerina, and why Canada needs an All Star Gala.

How old were you when you started dancing?

I was 10 years old, at the Bolshoi Academy [in Moscow]. We had 1-year of pre-Academy where you can try ballet, and then you have to pass an exam. It’s not just that anyone can come. For me, I was really surprised when I passed that exam. And it was a surprise for my family.

From that young age, did you know you wanted to be one of the best ballerinas in the world? 

At the Bolshoi Academy it wasn’t beautiful everyday—or easy. Somedays I thought, am I sure this is what I want? Should I try something else? I danced everyday, and my mom always told me I had to practice at home too. It doesn’t matter it you’re tired or not, if you have time you have to practice. You have to stretch, you have to think about what you did today, because you have to remember it tomorrow. So it was very difficult for me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a ballet dancer because it is so much work. I was fighting with myself, but my parents were very supportive, and they told me if you’re at the Bolshoi Academy it’s already magic. There’s one hundred people for one spot. You know the story of the ugly duckling? When I was crying, she always told me not to forget this story. She told me one day I’d be the beautiful swan.

Do you think your parents always knew you’d be a successful dancer? 

Of course my mother and father loved ballet, but we never thought that I would be principal dancer at the Bolshoi, and at the National Ballet of Canada, and that I would travel around the world and perform with all these companies. In Russia, it’s very normal for your kids to try so many classes. There are so many after school programs: music, dance, drawing, and other classes. It’s nonstop, so that you can express yourself and find something that you really love. And then you can go into a direction deeply and become more professional. So I tried everything! But I was just dancing. For me, it was always about dance. I loved everything about dance, but I was never thinking that it could be my life. I never thought that I would organize the Canada All Star Ballet Gala and be a principal dancer.

What is it exactly that you love about dance?

It’s magic when you’re in the theatre. For two hours, you don’t think about anything else. You are in this world, and the next day or in two weeks you’re still thinking about it. What we’re doing with the Canada All Star Gala is bringing work that only you can see in Paris, or in Germany, or in London. It’s very special that you can see all contemporary, classical, neo-classical work at the same time. And you can just forget everything to be in this world for about two hours.

Why was it important for you to bring all of these dancers together in Toronto?

It’s very important and it’s very special, because it’s a cultural event. We don’t have ballet galas here. To see Hans van Manen you have to go to Amsterdam, or to see Wayne McGregor you have to go to London. But when we have a gala, you can show a work from somewhere else. It’s special because you can bring your special work, and you will understand how different and how special every work is. It’s not just about dancing the same movement—dance is never the same. Even if you are doing an arabesque, it’s always with different expression. It’s never the same, which I think it’s important and very special.

And it’s very exciting for audiences! There aren’t many opportunities to go to the ballet and see so many acclaimed performances in one sitting.

It’s very important because: if you love classical ballet or if you love contemporary or you love neoclassical, you can come and you can find something that you really love. Or you can see something you were dreaming to see! Maybe you were thinking about a specific work for a long time, and now it’s here. If you love ballet, you’ve been waiting for probably many years. So now you can see everything—not everything, but a lot. But also I think it’s very special for students who are at the Academy here in Canada. They are exploring and taking first steps in this world, and so for them it’s very inspiring. It’s very important for them to see others from Royal Ballet or from other companies. To see them on stage and not on YouTube. Because live performance is very different; you will remember it forever. I think it’s very inspiring, and I think it’s what we need. You need someone who will inspire you, and show you that magic.

Do you hope to inspire younger dancers?

Of course, I have to. I have to pass to someone what I know, what my teacher gave me. I can’t just keep it inside and say, “I’m sorry, now it’s mine.” It’s not fair to do that. Because what I have…of course it belongs to be. But I think it belongs to the ballet world. I have to pass this.


Interested in attending the Canada All Star Ballet Gala? Take a look at what to expect in the video below. 

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